May 12th is Mother's Day in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and upwards of 70 other countries. But not in the UK where Mother's Day happened almost two months ago in early March - catching me off guard, as it has in many previous years. I've lived in the USA for twenty years but grew up in England, where my parents still live and, despite my best intentions, more years than I'm willing to admit I'm wrong footed by Mother's Day - not least because "Mothering Sunday", as it is traditionally known, is a movable feast, celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Lent, which can be anytime from early March to early April.
You'll find more about the history of Mother's Day in the USA and Mothering Sunday in Britain below, but first whether you're a mother, have a mother, or are just on the hunt for your next great read, here are a few book suggestions to inspire:
No Biking in the House Without a Helmet|
by Melissa Fay Greene
Hardcover: Apr 2011,
Paperback: Apr 2012
"Greene gives the best description I've ever read about what international adoption feels like from the inside, about the agonies of making the decision and choosing a child, and about the ambiguities involved in taking a child out of grim circumstances in the third world and trying to integrate him into an American family by means of Legos and water balloons." - Jennifer G Wilder, BookBrowse
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less
by Terry Ryan
Hardcover: Apr 2001,
Paperback: Apr 2002
Introduces Evelyn Ryan, an enterprising woman who kept poverty at bay, and her 10 children fed and clothed, with wit, poetry, and perfect prose during the "contest era" of the 1950s and 1960s. Graced with a rare appreciation for life's inherent hilarity, Evelyn turned every financial challenge into an opportunity for fun and profit. From her frenetic supermarket shopping spree -- worth $3,000 today -- to her clever entries worthy of Erma Bombeck, Dorothy Parker, and Ogden Nash, the story of this irrepressible woman whose talents reached far beyond her formidable verbal skills is told in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio with an infectious joy that shows how a winning spirit will triumph over the poverty of circumstance.
Hands of My Father : A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love
by Myron Uhlberg
Hardcover: Feb 2009
By turns heart-tugging and hilarious, Myron Uhlberg's memoir tells the story of growing up as the hearing son of deaf parents--and his life in a world that he found unaccountably beautiful, even as he longed to escape it.
Uhlberg's first language was American Sign Language, the first sign he learned: "I love you." But his second language was spoken English - and no sooner did he learn it than he was called upon to act as his father's ears and mouth in the stores and streets of the neighborhood beyond their silent apartment in Brooklyn.
Reflections on Motherhood
|When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice
by Terry Tempest Williams
Paperback: Feb 2013
"Time, experience, and uncanny coincidence spiral through these pages....When Women Were Birds is an extraordinary echo chamber in which lessons about voice - passed along from mother, to daughter, and now to us - will reverberate differently in each inner ear." - The Seattle Times
If you've read this book, please do join us to discuss it.
The Still Point of the Turning World
by Emily Rapp
Hardcover: Mar 2013
"In The Still Point of the Turning World Emily Rapp examines her son's all-too-brief life - and her own reactions to it - fearlessly and with an honesty that will devastate and astonish not only other parents, but everyone who opens this remarkable book." - Norah Piehl, BookBrowse
|The End of Your Life Book Club
by Will Schwalbe
Hardcover: Oct 2012
Paperback: Jun 2013
"Will Schwalbe's heart-wrenching memoir is difficult to categorize. It is at once a paean to his beloved mother, a treatise on the power of reading, and a handbook on how to live - and die. With direct prose and unflinching courage in the face of sadness, Schwalbe recreates the final months of his mother's life, offering a wealth of insight into how the written word can connect lives." - Sarah Sacha Dollacker, BookBrowse
Well Loved Mystery Series
The great thing about series books is that there's always another book to give. If your recipient's new to the series, give the first book; if they're already fans, give the appropriate book in the series!
The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency Series
by Alexander McCall Smith
Paperback: Feb 2001
"The author's prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision. His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswana landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven't read anything with such alloyed pleasure for a long time." - Anthony Daniels, The Sunday Telegraph
Published in paperback Mar 2013: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection
Publishing in hardcover Nov 2013: The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
View full series order
The Maisie Dobbs Series
by Jacqueline Winspear
Hardcover: Mar 2013
Young, feisty Maisie Dobbs has recently set herself up as a private detective. Such a move may not seem especially startling. But this is 1929, and Maisie is exceptional in many ways. Having started as a maid to the London aristocracy, studied her way to Cambridge and served as a nurse in the Great War, Maisie has wisdom, experience and understanding beyond her years. Little does she realze the extent to which this strength of character is soon to be tested.
Published in paperback Oct 2012: Elegy for Eddie
Published in hardcover Mar 2013: Leaving Everything Most Loved
View full series order
|Chief Inspector Gamache Series
by Louise Penny
Meet Inspector Gamache of the Surêté du Québec, who commands his forces--and this series--with integrity and quiet courage while solving unconventional murders in the tradition of the British whodunit.
Publishing in July 2013: The Beautiful Mystery
Publishing in hardcover Aug 2013: How The Light Gets In
View full series order
Chechnya has been much in the news this past week due to the two alleged Boston bombers being ethnic Chechens. On the assumption that many of us will be a little rusty with the goings on of this small country in the Caucuses, below is BookBrowse's "beyond the book" article written for Masha Gessen's The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (2012).
Though it seems that the Tsarnaev brothers had not lived in Chechnya, although the older brother is thought to have visited last year, an understanding of the history of Chechnya is relevant as it explains why hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chechens currently live in countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Dagestan, as did the Tsarnaev family before coming to the USA.
While this article gives you some historic background, to get a glimpse of the humanity of the Chechen people, I strongly recommend Anthony Marra's brilliant debut novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which publishes on May 7.
All About Chechnya
Chechnya lies to the south of the Russian Republic and is bound by Russia on almost all sides - it shares a border with Georgia high in the Caucasus Mountains. The secession attempts following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 are just a couple of many periods of disturbance Chechnya has witnessed. The republic, whose population currently stands at around one million, has been in almost constant battle against foreign rule since at least the 15th century. In fact, the area's original conversion to Sunni Islam may have been in large part so as to receive help from the Ottoman Empire against encroachment by the Russian Empire.
The current resistance has its roots in the late 18th century when Russia expanded its territories into areas formerly under the control of the Ottoman Empire and Persia (Iran) including the Caucasus Mountains. After a prolonged conflict of more than forty years, the area was formally annexed by the Russian Empire in 1859.
Since then, secession attempts have flared up pretty much every time Russia's internal politics have showed signs of weakness - including rebellions during the Russo-Turkish War in the 1870s; the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813), The Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and the Russian Civil War of 1917-1923.
Under Soviet rule in the 1930s, the oil-rich region of Chechnya was combined with its even smaller neighbor Ingushetia to form the autonomous republic of Checheno-Ingushetia. In 1944, in response to Chech uprisings during World War II, Stalin gave orders that the entire ethnic population of Chechnya and Inguishetia were to be forcibly relocated. Checheno-Ingushetia was dissolved, mosques and graveyards were destroyed, place names changed and vast numbers of historical Chechen texts were burned.
It is estimated that about half of ethnic Chechens died between 1944 and 1948. Checheno-Ingushetia was renamed Grozny Oblast and used to settle refugees from the Western Soviet Union. In the center of Grozny, Chechnya's capital city, the Soviets erected a statue with the inscription, "There is no people under the sun more vile and deceitful than this one."
Metafiction is an elastic concept covering a wide range of fiction but in essence boils down to stories in which the book blurs the line between reality and fiction by drawing attention to itself in some shape or form. To boil it down even further, you could say that it is fiction about fiction.
William H. Gass is attributed with establishing the term metafiction in a 1970 essay titled "Philosophy and the Form of Fiction". Commenting on American fiction of the 1960s, he pointed out that a new description was needed for the emerging genre of experimental texts that openly broke with the tradition of literary realism still dominant in post-WWII American literature.
Some metafiction is like nesting dolls. For example, stories about readers reading books such as Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian (2005). Or writers writing books, such as Andrea Levy's The Long Song (2010), in which a woman is writing a book about Miss July, a slave. That woman turns out to be Miss July herself and she periodically comments on her experience of writing the story with her son looking over her shoulder as editor. Or the story might contain partial or complete stories within them such as David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas.
Stories in which characters are aware that they are part of the story are metafiction. For example Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels; or where the narrator is shown to be the author of the story, such as The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.
Books where the reader of the story can influence how the story develops are also considered to be metafiction. Children's picture books, where readers feel they influence the action, provide a rich vein of examples, such as Kenn Nesbitt's More Bears! In fact, there's likely a good case to make that the fast growing wealth of ebooks for children where the reader influences the course of the book by interacting with it are, in essence, examples of metafiction.
In recognition of National Poetry Month (celebrated in April in the USA, UK and Canada), here are a dozen of the best poetry resources the web has to offer.
But first, who reads poetry these days?
Back in 2005 the USA based National Opinion Research Center (NORC) conducted a survey, on behalf of The Poetry Foundation. It found that over a third of men and almost two-thirds of women who read for pleasure are poetry users. The rather awkward term "poetry users" is how the survey describes those who either listen to or read poetry, or both.
These numbers sounds pretty impressive, but keep in mind that the survey was just of those who already read for pleasure - and we readers are, sadly, already a subset of the general population. When you look at the population of the USA as a whole, according to a 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, just three out of twenty adults read or listen to poetry.
Before the poets among us retire to write depressing haiku about the state of poetry, perhaps you'll take heart in the fact that 99% of "non poetry users" in the NORC survey said that they come across poetry in their daily lives - on public transport, at ceremonies, in newspapers and so forth - and about two-thirds had read/listened to these poems and liked them. In short, when poetry sneaks up on people, they enjoy it!
Personally, I love the serendipity of coming across poetry, but rarely do I seek it out, and if I do it's mostly to revisit old favorites. As for reviews of poetry, frankly, most of the time they leave me cold as my attitude to the form is succinctly summed up by that well known Joan Didion quote: "Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about it is its power." It's as if poetry reviewers belong to a private club that I'm not privy to; keeping me at arm's length talking about technical terms I don't understand and, frankly, don't particularly want to.
With all this said, I had serious doubts about writing a blog about poetry websites when there are so many better qualified than I to do so; but then it occurred to me that perhaps I did have a perspective to offer precisely because I am not a poetry insider. So here, with the invaluable input of some of BookBrowse's reviewers who are poetry aficionados, are a dozen poetry websites that have something to offer even the least poetic among us.
General Poetry Sites
Poetryfoundation.org. The Poetry Foundation has a huge selection of poems supported by substantial biographical info. I particularly enjoyed browsing poems by geographical region. It's the sort of site that you could dip in for a couple of minutes or a couple of days.
Poemhunter.com. Whether you're looking for themed quotes, the lyrics to an almost forgotten song, to revisit a favorite poem or discover new poets, this vast resource of over 800,000 poems and 80,000 poets will deliver the goods. You can sign up to receive the poem of the day by email and, once you create your free account, catalog your favorite poems for future reference.
Poets.org is affiliated with the Academy of American Poets. At first glance, it seems a little less welcoming than the two sites mentioned already, but when I started digging in its resources are great, not least the very cool regional map of the USA, including bios of key poets, poetry events, poetry-friendly bookstores, and poetry history. The Academy of American Poets inaugurated National Poetry Month so, unsurprisingly, they're also a great resource for that as well.
Poetrysociety.org is the website of The Poetry Society of America - the oldest poetry organization in the USA founded in 1910. It's a membership organization so not a lot for a casual visitor such as me, but if I was somebody who just lived and breathed poetry, and particularly if I was a high schooler who felt that no one else in the world cared for poetry the way I do, I think I would find many free articles and interviews to inspire me.
Poetry180. The Library of Congress's Poetry 180 site encourages schools to share a poem with their students every day. I found Poetry 180 a soothing place to visit precisely because it is limited to just 180 short poems, thoughtfully chosen by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins.
Poetseers.org. Poetseers is created and maintained by followers of the spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007). Here you'll find poetry by religion/belief. There's a particularly intriguing section titled poet seers where you'll find a select gathering of poets that "inspire and illuminate humanity to look beyond the mundane and to gain a glimpse of the Beyond." Here you'll find Shakespeare, Milton and William Blake rubbing shoulders with Dante, Confucius and Buddha. Those who notice a lack of female representation in the seers category (just the one) will find female poets elsewhere, such as Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich in the Christian section.
Unlike small children, many would say that poetry should be heard, not seen. Here are three sites that provide a wealth of audio readings: